This is one trip that I really wanted to take, but one that was wrought with so many obstacles I felt as though I was playing Little Big Planet, that I had almost felt like giving up halfway like I did with the game. But thankfully, I didn’t, and so I managed to come through to the round where I’m able to customize my own world, that is now Tokyo.
I arrived in this wonderful city for the third time since 2008 on 30 March, in the middle of the country’s worst crisis since World War II, to find her people not a dime less cheerful with their chains of incomprehensible yet beautiful-sounding greetings at every point of contact. The foreigners I’ve met here, like me, don’t give two hoots about the possible radiation risks drifting from a crippled nuclear plant some 250 km up north.
It is all calm and beautiful here in Tokyo, the sakura trees are budding nicely, some have already got the flowers in bloom, and I hope just before I leave, I’ll be gazing at the trees in full bloom guarding the river banks of the waters running beneath the Azumabashi Bridge in Asakusa where I’ve always stayed everytime I’m in Tokyo. Oh, I’ve just realized the bridge is exactly 100 years older than me, sweet. The ancient Sensō-ji will also have a surreal aura over it once the sakuras in its compound open up.
So I haven’t been doing anything touristy yet because that is not the purpose of this trip at all. Well, I guess it had been sort of fateful that I’m even here. From step one (getting the company’s endorsement letter for my visa) to the final flight confirmation, I had had heart-stopping moments that I might just not make it. I told the lady on the Ctrip line to go ahead and issue my ticket about half an hour before the earthquake struck Miyagi. Talk about destiny.
Family and friends back home were concerned; yet, I had to come. As the design center takes shape beautifully in Shanghai, I’ll be expecting busy months ahead to render vacations over the months of May – Sep almost impossible. It is my goal to return for the Hachiman Matsuri in Takayama come October but I cannot bear the thought of not coming back until half a year later, that would just kill me. Of course, I wanted to also see the sakuras again, it’s been two years. And to visit friends here. And to visit Tokyo at a time like no others. So, none of what I do this trip will be mainstream touristy shit. Mochiron.
My first full day in Tokyo (which was also Day 2), I had lunch with an American friend who moved here in January, and his colleague, at a food caravan park in Ginza/Yurakucho. It’s a really neat lunch arrangement for these office workers because you can get relatively cheap and delicious hot meals and eat them in the open spaces under the warm sun. Probably not so cool for winter and summer, but for the other months, it rocks. The caravans change all the time too, so it beats the food court with the same stalls serving identical menus everyday.
After the guys went back to continue what was left of their 12-hour workdays, I hopped on the subway to Roppongi, which is somewhat upscale Tokyo. This trip, I had decided, would be an art trail exploration trip, and the Tokyo Art Beat became my bible. So I nailed down a number of galleries to hit in Roppongi, could only find the ones in the Mori Tower, but since they’re not free and it was getting late, I decided to save it for another day. I trudged on, navigating the lanes and alleys of Roppongi, not finding the ones on my list but dropping into random galleries, shops, bookstores, and bumping into a Singapore Restaurant (Bak Kut Teh was on the menu, it was tempting) – it was probably there because the embassy’s nearby.
I ended the trek at the infamous Tokyo Tower. Okay, third trip to Tokyo, and I was finally gazing up at the fiery red steel tower. Got a couple snaps, and that’s about it. Okay, so I also got a Doraemon-on-Tokyo-Tower ala King Kong-on-Empire-State-Building mobile phone hangie.
Then I took the train to Shinjuku, thinking maybe I could wander around there till the shops were closed. But alas, it was only past eight, and Takashimaya Times Square was already closed. The entire Shinjuku was darker than usual. This was the first real reminder I had that Tokyo just had a triple whammy disaster, and was still fighting to get on her feet again. Ganbatte!
Day 2 in Tokyo began with a friendly chat with a Japanese guy at the breakfast table, to find out that he’s an art enthusiast, so we spent the day gallery hopping. It was awesome to have someone helping me navigate the confusing streets of Tokyo where street signs were not in English, but even if they were, were not any good for me unless I could fully understand their ward system and why 2-15-12 could be next to 15-2-5. It actually also led my Japanese friend on several wild goose chases before landing the correct ones.
Sometime in the evening, one of my best friends in Singapore wrote to tell us that she just received a shocking email that was an eulogy of her favorite client, from the client’s colleague, that he had just passed away due to dengue complications. My friend had told us stories about his zest for life, his trips around the world, how he was living out of suitcases most of his young life. My only consolation for my friend was that he had really lived life on his own terms, albeit cut short, and that was really something that most people spend their entire lifetimes trying to achieve but fall short of.
Later in the evening, my American friend in Tokyo posted a memoriam on his blog, on the death anniversary of a good friend in college who was Japanese, and who, succumbing to the pressures of his studies and job prospects, jumped from the seventh floor of the school building just months before receiving his master’s degree. I cried.
It was April Fool’s Day, sure. But these two stories were no joke. How we embrace life and all the stresses that come with it. Death would be inevitable, I will not sit around and wait for it to consume me. Life is precious, I will not let any form of stress wring the life out of it.
So on Day 4, I will rock it out at Sonar Sound with my friend. Looking forward to it.